By Steve McIlwain
This is Part 2 of Hubs Corner: Worse, Poorer, Sickness. You can check out Part 1 here.
Few stories in marriage draw couples closer and inspire others as the wife who stands stronger than steel through her husband’s battle with cancer. Likewise, few stories in marriage devastate families and are as depressing as the husband who leaves his wife in the midst of her leukemia treatments. These are certainly extreme cases, and the genders can be switched in each, but the point endures: it is a beautiful thing when spouses care for each other through sickness.
The core question about “sickness” is this: is marriage about me or about us? Sickness has pushed many couples to the edge of their ability to stick with their commitment, and it has pushed many off the ledge. It can be a life altering scenario that has the ability to change your everyday existence in the blink of an eye. Couples that face this circumstance declare their allegiance loudly: “me” or “us.”
Sickness is an interesting topic because more often than not it is out of our hands. Whereas with money you could argue that education, performance, and decision making are within one’s sphere of influence, heart disease, cancer, and injury accidents strike more like lightning bolts. Sure there are definite factors that influence health such as lifestyle, eating habits, exercise, smoking, drinking, etc. But items like genetics, natural susceptibility, and flat out bad luck play massive roles in health issues. An unwanted, unsolicited disease leaves a sick spouse at their most vulnerable. This is when the true strength of the marriage vow steps in or recedes. Is your own life more important, or your life with your spouse? Do you have what it takes to dig deep for the person who needs you most? Will you stand by your spouse through sleepless nights, increasing medical bills, and lack of intimacy?
I have witnessed many spousal sickness scenarios, but two stand out. In the first scenario the wife had cancer. Her husband stood by her at first, then started seeing another woman, his wife recovered, then they divorced when she caught him in the act with his mistress. In the second scenario, over approximately seven years, the wife was diagnosed with a serious illness, overcame it, was diagnosed with another serious illness, and then overcame that. Her husband took as much time off work as possible to be with her, spent his evenings with her in the hospital, earned their family income, and took care of all the domestic responsibilities throughout her sickness.
For both of these men, their wives’ sickness was the most challenging, difficult, frustrating, and life-altering situation they ever faced. Husband number one walked away from his wife, devastated his kids, and broke up another marriage. In the wake of that decision, his wife remains single, the pain caused to their kids remains, and the situation with his grandchildren is awkward and distant. Husband number two embraced the enormous difficultly, did whatever he could to support his wife, and endured the most overwhelming situation of his life. In the aftermath of his decision, they have an unbelievably deep and intimate relationship and are thankfully raising their three year old daughter. Which of these stories is more inspiring? Which of these do you want to be your story? The answer is not easy, but it is obvious.
Sickness covers much more than life or death situations. Each cold, headache, and time-of-the month presents a spectacular opportunity to declare, “Us is more important than me.” Few things draw couples closer together than selfless sacrifice to a spouse in their most exposed moment of need.
Worse serves as a catch-all for all the other difficult stuff that happens in marriage, and there’s a lot of it: arguing, children, alcohol abuse, workaholics, infidelity, obsessive TV watching, incompatibility, complete disinterest, chronic complaining, drifting apart, sexual dysfunction, religious strains, boredom, communication breakdowns, unrealistic expectations, insecurity, changes in priority, and family issues. This list doesn’t even come close to being fully comprehensive. It is simply staggering how many issues marriages face.
Worse can mean any of a million things, but the enduring question, the very core of marriage, is this: are you fully committed to your marriage? As you stand before your spouse, family, and friends and proclaim “for better or worse,” are you truly all in? You see, marriage is supposed to be difficult. It is designed to be hard. It will push you to the edge of what you can handle. This is the point of marriage: two people, serving as each other’s helpmate, working together to endure all of life’s challenges and enjoy all of life’s joys together.
Marriage will change you. Marriage will test you. Marriage will frustrate you. Marriage will exasperate you. “Worse” means doing whatever it takes to make it. Be fully open and honest with your spouse. Force yourself to have the awkward, difficult conversations together. Be willing to change. Be accepting. Speak with a trusted friend about your issues for support and guidance. Seek the incredible insight, knowledge, and assistance of a marriage counselor. Whether you know it or not, the power to transform your marriage lives within you.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible hits this straight on the head. The context of the verse isn’t about marriage, but I believe that it applies perfectly:
“’My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” –2 Corinthians 12:9-10
No matter how far gone you feel your marriage may be; it’s not too late. No matter how grand the trials that stand in front of you are, no matter how intense the damage behind you, you can overcome it. Challenges are an integral part of marriage, weaved into the very meaning of its existence. Every single marriage faces difficulties; some minor, some seemingly insurmountable. An incredible opportunity lies in front of you; a difficult, slow, painful journey that will push the bounds of what you can handle. But each step you take on that voyage, together with your spouse, leads you towards an extraordinary relationship overflowing with love, intimacy, acceptance, and passion. It’s a reciprocal relationship that, while extremely difficult at times, is also the most significant purpose of your life on earth. Will you embrace that, or will you walk away from it?
Is all that just a bunch of crazy talk? Maybe. But then again, you’re the one who stood in front of your family and friends and promised in declaration to the world “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.”